The Next Lala

Peter Kirn at Create Digital Music has reviewed the latest incarnation of that was recently released in beta as As a longtime Lala user I agree with his conclusions, and find his idea of tiered music pricing and his comparison of lala with terrestrial radio to be appropriate. Too bad the radio-like features of aren’t exactly riveting. True, you can stream tons of music for free, but the streams are only on a per album basis. Once upon a time, an older version of allowed users to create and share playlists–essentially turning anyone into the DJ of their own radio station. I’d love to see this feature brought back, or even some relational music suggestions based on recent tracks played. In other words, what makes good radio good is that it’s curated (and what makes bad radio horrible is that it’s overly-curated…another story). The thrill of radio for me is that something great might come on next and sadly, doesn’t allow it. There’s not even a shuffle button. I’ll admit I’ve been having fun checking out albums on, but I can’t say the experience has been one of discovery. It’s more like visiting the reading room at the NY Public Library or the Library of Congress or the British Museum. You finally get to hold a book you’ve been looking for, and then the reading room closes and it’s time to give it back.

Speaking of giving things back, I’m glad to see CD trading hasn’t been thrown out on I regularly get new music from lala by trading my older CDs for someone else’s. Yes, CD sales are down and may never recover–boo hoo. But right now seems like a great time to trade CDs because they’re suddenly perceived as less valuable while still quite usable and not yet so rare as to be collector’s items.

Year-end round-up let-down

I always enjoy reading best-of-the-year lists and thought I’d add to the glut. But looking through my music collection I realized how few new releases I bought this year. I simply can’t make a best-music-of-the-year list because I hardly heard anything released this year! A strange statement for a musician to make, but here’s why.

My music buying habits usually follow two, possibly contradictory patterns which I’ll call direct-from-the-source and bottom-feeding. Direct-from-the-source is from the artist herself. Go to the show, listen to the music, talk the artist, buy the CD. Or when I’m on the bill, I’ll often get another artist’s CD by trading one of mine. With the birth of my son at the end of 2006, I’ve attended and played far fewer shows than usual in 2007. Hence, fewer 2007 CDs to hear.

Bottom-feeding is my tendency to scour the used CD racks. Since moving from Austin to Albany, though, my selection of decent used CDs has plummeted. Luckily, there’s, my single biggest source of CDs for 2007. Of course, bottom-feeding results in far fewer new releases, though I picked up a handful at Amoeba Music in Berkeley.

So, I’m a cheap-skate and a shut-in. But I’m a music loving cheap-skate shut-in. A glance back at those iTunes stats shows I added over 9 days of music to my collection during 2007, and that doesn’t include some of the CDs I acquired but plan to trade away. I listened to more music than ever this year–apparently most of it was “The Song of the Long Tail.”

Those iTunes stats revealed another trend for 2007. If 2006 was the year of the music blog (keep ’em comin’ destination: OUT, Music for Robots, fluxblog, End(-)Of(-)World Music, UBUweb) then 2007 was the year of the free album. Radiohead’s In Rainbows was the most visible here, though I have yet to download it. I did enjoy albums from eDogm and insubordinations and free music standbys such as Steve Coleman and Bob Ostertag. Amiestreet was another reliable source for free or almost free music. And the great aggregator remains Free Albums Galore.

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to make more of my own albums available online for free. You’ll hear about it at the Field Guide when I do. And another resolution? How about I get out a little more in 2008?

New Music Online: Part 1:

I’m writing about my experiences with as the first part of a series focusing on music distribution models on the internet. Other posts may cover, online radio services such as pandora and music networking sites like mog. I’m particularly interested in how these sites serve experimental music and musicians. My definition of experimental music is a broad one, covering 20th and 21st century classical music, avant-flavored jazz, fringe areas of pop and rock, and other non-mainstream varieties.

What is it? is a CD trading service. The site has recently expanded to include an online music player, but its functionality remains limited, so I’ll focus on the CD trading aspect of the service. I have found to be a low-cost, low-risk way to expand my music library.

How it works

Users post a list of CDs they own and are willing to trade. They also create a list of CDs they want. The database facilitates trades between users. These trades are not usually direct, one-to-one exchanges (e.g. I send you a CD you want in exchange for a CD from you that I want). More typically, User A sends out a CD to User B and receives a CD from User C. Each CD received costs $1.75 including shipping and handling. There is no charge for sending CDs.
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